Cult Horror Corner: The Stendhal Syndrome
The fundamental problem with The Stendhal Syndrome is that Dario Argento is just too juvenile a director to tackle a subject as serious and controversial as rape. I’m not using the word juvenile as an insult here; simply, that Argento is known for big, extravagant set pieces, gore, and beautiful woman, not serious issues done sensitively. No matter how you look at it, The Stendhal Syndrome does not work as a film, at least not in its current state, and is one of the lesser films in his repertoire.
The plot follows police detective Anna (Asia Argento), who suffers from Stendhal syndrome, which causes her to become sick and disorientated when looking at art. How Anna is a detective despite the fact she is incredibly young, frail and doesn’t do anything to suggest she is a detective is never explained, and, unlike say, most of Suspiria, the unanswered questions actually linger. After being overwhelmed by paintings, she is kidnapped and raped by the sadistic Alfredo (Thomas Kretschmann), in a truly nasty and brutal scene that gets the film off to an unpleasant start. From there, the film spirals into, sadly, nothingness, as there really isn’t a lot to this film. She has a few more encounters with Alfredo, gains a love interest and…that’s about it. There’s a twist towards the end which is stupid, but otherwise, this is a film that has very little substance.
The only thing that keeps The Stendhal Syndrome from being a complete failure is the leading actress, and Dario’s daughter, Asia. She is required to go through hell for this film, and you can’t help but feel her services would be better applied to a better film. Thank God Dario did get her though, for she is the saving grace that just keeps the film from sinking. However, aside from Asia’s performance, The Stendhal Syndrome is a dull, depressing affair that shows that Dario Argento may make masterpieces, but when he’s required to make a film on a serious subject, he just can’t make anything beyond this disappointing effort.
By Harry Ford